Math has always been an important part of education, but with the increased focus on STEM in recent years, math has become an even bigger component. However, the increased focus on STEM doesn't mean math is any easier to teach. Some children have a natural aptitude for math, while others struggle to understand and master the various math concepts and skills being taught in class. This makes it difficult to find the right combination of math activities and lesson plans that can benefit all learners, which is why constantly working on improving your instructional strategy for elementary math is so important.
There are certain things you can do as an educator to help children master math concepts and skills at each grade level. Here are a few learning approaches you can use to ensure that your instructional strategy for elementary math meets the needs of all students:
- Schedule a review of the math material children have already learned in your daily lesson plans.Revisiting the math skills children have already mastered will help them build upon those skills and learn the new concepts being introduced. It also gives children who struggle with learning math a chance to strengthen math skills that they understand but need to practice more. The daily math review doesn't have to take a long time–you can choose to incorporate a short math activity each day, or you can incorporate a more integrated, spiral review with a classroom numeracy center that has manipulative content to help children make numeracy connections with the concepts they are reviewing.
- Build upon children's math skills by incorporating new concepts and hands-on learning materials in fun, educational ways.The ways in which you introduce new math concepts and the types of learning materials you choose to use in class will play a major role in how successful children are in math. Math lessons and activities need to be as fun and engaging as possible. Quiz cards, manipulatives, math games, math apps, and similar math materials all provide great learning opportunities for children to expand their skills in math.
- Help children make the connection of how they will use the math concepts they are learning in class in real life.Use real-life situations that children will relate to and understand when giving them a word problem or teaching them a new math concept. You can also prepare children for the real world by teaching them about financial literacy with money games and programs, such as the Buy It Right Money Game and the enRICHment™ Financial Literacy Program . Materials like these can help you teach children new math concepts while also teaching them about budgeting, saving, and spending.
- Use multiple learning styles to differentiate instruction and help all of the children in your care learn and understand math concepts.Planning a variety of math lessons and activities that incorporate different learning styles is another important part of helping children succeed in math. For example, talking about a new math concept and having children write about it will help verbal learners, while coming up with a song or rhyme that can help children remember the new concept will help auditory learners. Also reach out to children at the individual level if they're struggling to understand a math concept or master a math skill. Providing children with different ways to absorb information will ultimately improve learning in the classroom for all students.
- Ask parents to help their kids learn math at home and give them the resources to make that process as stress free as possible.Parent involvement can make a difference in how successful a child is in math, but parents often feel uncomfortable with helping their child learn new math concepts and skills–mainly due to their own past experiences with math and them not understanding the new methods being used to teach it. Ellen Mulligan, the creator of MathShapes! (an engaging math tutorial program that builds children's confidence in their math skills), says that parents can help their children with math if they are given the resources to do so. By providing parents with a list of questions that they can use to ask their child about math (such as "what is the problem asking you to do?" and "does your answer make sense?"), you'll enable parents to help their child find the right answer without actually having an answer. Another option is to send home stress free math activities and assignments–such as those in MathShapes! –to help parents teach children about math at home.
You can also encourage parents to illustrate the math they use every day in conversations with their children. For example, when following a recipe, parents can reinforce fractions and measurement skills. When shopping at the grocery store, make a game of estimating the total as they put items in the cart to practice estimation and money skills. Once parents realize that there are easy ways to strengthen mathematics in everyday activities, these kinds of real-world applications will become invaluable opportunities for kids.
Remember, children may struggle with learning math, but you can help them be successful by changing your instructional strategy to meet their needs and learning styles. Be sure to check out our math section for a variety of resources and materials you can use in the classroom.